July 07, 2009
Could the winds of change be blowing?
The Wildrose Alliance 2009 AGM Sets the Stage for the Party’s Leadership Race
By: Mike Walker
The AGM of the fledging Wildrose Alliance party was held at the Bearspaw Community Centre in suburban Calgary on June 5th and 6th. The room was filled with what looked to be well over two hundred attendants. This was an impressive number for a party not even two years old.
Party President Jeff Callaway first addressed the attendants as they arrived on Friday evening and introduced outgoing party leader, Paul Hinman. The former MLA made a heartfelt speech about his many years of public service made on behalf of Albertans.
The line up of speakers throughout the AGM was impressive. They included Nadeem Esmail from the Frasier Institute, John Carpay of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, and David Yager of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada and writer for the Calgary Herald.
But the most important speeches were from two of the leadership contestants. The first leadership contestant to speak was Danielle Smith who recently resigned her position with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. And the second was Mark Dyrholm, a chiropractor and Vice-President of the Progressive Group for Independent Business.
Last of the main speakers to address the attendants at the AGM was Prime Minister Harper’s advisor Tom Flanagan. The conservative strategist spoke about how conservatives through the 80s and 90s incorrectly believed that the free market could create a utopian society on earth.
Somewhat of a surprise was that the policy proposals that were made at the AGM were of very little real consequence. For anyone who attended the AGM, it was evident that it was the speeches made at the AGM that set the tone for the entire venue.
President Jeff Callaway did an admirable job as the MC of the event, but at times seemed a little too nervous and unable to bring the room to attention. The only real disappointment from Jeff was that he made no mention that June 6th also happened to be D-Day and Tax Freedom Day.
Outgoing leader Paul Hinman gave a gracious speech delivered with some of the folksiness one would expect from someone with strong rural roots. Compared with subsequent speeches at the event, one would suspect his lack of charisma is only a media creation.
Armed with numerous power point slides, Nadeem Esmail spoke passionately and effectively as he usually does about the plight of health care in Alberta. John Carpay quoted Voltaire to emphasize that free speech must allowed for all Canadians, even Bill Whatcott.
David Yager’s speech was all about how Evil Ed destroyed Alberta’s oil industry. His powerpoint presented the premier in such an unflattering light, that you were left wondering if it was possible he was asked to remove a slide that had a picture of the Premier shaking hands with the devil.
The biggest surprise of the AGM was Danielle Smith. Despite being praised by so many in the media and libertarian pundits alike about her ability to communicate, her performance was pleasing but overly rehearsed. Despite a strong speech, there was very little warmth in her style.
Her main rival Mark Dyrholm came in with no expectations from the audience whatsoever and gave a speech in which he spoke passionately about his conservative roots as a young man in the Reform Party. In contrast to Danielle, his past suggests a strongly conservative candidate.
Tom Flanagan demonstrated his intellectual vigour and good humour, but it was obvious that he is more comfortable in an academic environment that appeals to the intellectual curiosity of students. He did not rouse the attendants, but skillfully answered all questions from the floor.
The speeches suggest a competitive leadership race was kicked off at the party’s AGM. It will be the more media-savvy libertarian candidate who grew up in the PC Party, Danielle Smith, against the more family-oriented conservative candidate who grew up in the Reform Party, Mark Dyrholm.
Copyright 2009 - Mike Walker
Picking on the new guy...
May 13, 2009
Did you know that Michael Ignatieff spent over 30 years away from Canada - more than half his life?
Did you know that while away he went so far as to call Britain and then America his country? And that he even told an interviewer the only thing he missed about Canada was Algonquin Park?
How about that Ignatieff, who claims to represent all the people, admits to being flattered when people call him by his aristocratic title - "Count Ignatieff" - and actually brags about being "horribly arrogant," "cosmopolitan," and even an intellectual "samurai?"
Did you know that Michael Ignatieff is the father of the Liberal carbon tax, proposing the idea even before Stephane Dion did? Did you know Ignatieff admits he's considering hiking the GST, and bluntly warns "we will have to raise taxes" because of his big spending schemes?
Did you know that Michael Ignatieff thinks that the only way to know you are in Quebec and not Vermont or Minnesota is French road signage? Or that he boasts he does not speak heavily accented “Quebecois” but rather “French-French?”
Like many Canadians you may not have heard any of these facts about the man who has come back to Canada, demanding to lead you and me. Ignatieff has, without question, enjoyed one of the longest political free rides ever.
Well, I am writing to tell you that his free ride is over.
And we will take our message directly to the Canadian people.
To get our message out about Ignatieff's blind ambition to become Prime Minister after staying away for over 30 years, we have created a new website titled none other than Ignatieff.me - a perfect name for a politician who has always put himself first.
The inspiration for Ignatieff.me was Michael Ignatieff himself, who smugly posed on the front cover of magazines - around the time he told the British press "someone like me does not exist in America and that seems to me to be terrible."
At Ignatieff.me you can learn more about Ignatieff, watch new political ads, and use our Internet tools to inform your family, friends, and neighbours about the man, the "Count" who seeks to lead our country after staying away for over 30 years.
So please, click here to visit Ignatieff.me. I guarantee you'll learn more facts about Ignatieff there than you have anywhere else.
And once you're done learning about Ignatieff and spreading the word, click here to support our website, by chipping in. Unlike Count Ignatieff, we depend on grassroots Canadians like you.
National Campaign Director - Conservative Party of Canada
P.S. Go to Ignatieff.me right now - you'll be amazed by what you see!
Notice for those who care about liberty...
If you agree that there is no place for oppressive Human Rights Commissions in a free and democratic country like Canada, please forward this to people on your contact list.
If you agree and are a resident of Ontario, follow the link below to register to vote in the upcoming Ontario PC leadership election. Even if you are not a resident of Ontario, please forward this to friends and family.
MPP Randy Hillier is running for the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. As you may know, a major plank in Randy's platform is a promise to abolish Ontario's Human Rights Commission.
This is an opportunity to demonstrate that there is significant support for the idea of getting rid of these kangaroo courts. If we don't get behind this initiative now we may never be able to convince Canadian politicians to take the issue on again in the future.
Please act now: www.abolishhrcs.ca
May 07, 2009
Enviro-hippies aren't above the law...
Earth Day, Philly Style:
Environmentalist Loved Planet, Murdered Girlfriend
By: MICHAEL P. TREMOGLIE
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Today is Earth Day, a holiday created to honor the planet and to raise the consciousness of man’s effect on the environment. Philadelphia has a very strong tie to this day. One of its native sons, Ira Einhorn, was a co-founder of the environmentalist jubilee.
But Mr. Einhorn has another line on his resume. In addition to being a environmental guru, he is the Unicorn Killer.
While a student at the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Einhorn dated a Bryn Mawr College graduate by the name of Holly Maddux. When the affair ended in 1977, Mr. Einhorn went into a jealous rage and murdered her.
He concealed his crime for 18 months by stuffing Ms. Maddux’s body in a trunk that he kept in his apartment. The foul odor of the decomposing corpse coming from Mr. Einhorn’s Powelton Village apartment caused neighbors to complain. In 1979, police found the trunk stored in a closet in Mr. Einhorn’s apartment.
Ira Einhorn, member of the counterculture pantheon, one of the founders of the environmentalist movement, icon of the liberal intelligentsia, was charged with murder. But it was not just a simple murder, it was a gruesome case of domestic violence.
At the bail hearing, Mr. Einhorn was praised by a contingent of luminaries - all testifying to his character. There were Ivy League professors, an Episcopalian minister and corporate executives who worked with Mr. Einhorn raising funds. They all stated under oath that he was a man of the greatest integrity.
Arlen Specter, currently Pennsylvania’s senior United States Senator, was Mr. Einhorn’s attorney. He managed to get the bail set at the unheard of amount of $40,000 for the suspected murderer. Only 10 percent was needed to free him. Barbara Bronfman, heiress to the Seagram liquor fortune, paid it.
Proclaiming his innocence, Mr. Einhorn told all that he was framed. He said it was the CIA or the FBI who committed the murder and they were trying to frame him for it because of his political activities.
Some will note that another notorious Philadelphia murderer, Mumia Abu Jamal, used this defense a few years later. Like Mumia, Mr. Einhorn had no shortage of leftist followers.
Mr. Einhorn skipped bail and left Philadelphia in 1981. More than a decade passed when the DA's office tried Mr. Einhorn in absentia after being unable to locate him. He was convicted in 1993.
Several years after the absentia conviction, in 1997, Mr. Einhorn was located. He was living in France with a new girlfriend - a Swedish woman. The District Attorney’s office in Philadelphia immediately asked to have him extradited. However, the humane French refused to extradite Mr. Einhorn. French officals cited the use of capital punishment in Pennsylvania and the conviction in absentia as reasons for their refusal.
Mr. Einhorn was able to convince the French courts not to extradite him until he received the promise of a new trial. A Pennsylvania legislator, Dan O’Brien, introduced a bill in the Pennsylvania General Assembly that allowed granting Mr. Einhorn a new trial, if he asked for it, and if the French extradited him. The bill did not vacate the original verdict.
When France began extradition, Mr. Einhorn’s representatives requested the European Court of Human Rights to review the case. The request was denied.
He was extradited to Pennsylvania in July 2001. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison October 17, 2002.
But there is a little mentioned irony about the Einhorn saga. Ira Einhorn was arrested for murder March 28, 1979, the day the Three Mile Island nuclear plant accident occurred. Ira Einhorn, environmentalist, was charged with murder during the same period as one of the greatest environmental accidents in United States history.
But the real irony is that more people died in the apartment of Ira Einhorn, co-founder of Earth Day than at Three Mile Island. The environmentalist killed more people than the so-called environmental disaster.
Happy Earth Day.
Michael P. Tremoglie can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2009 - The Philadelphia Bulletin
A complex issue to say the least...
Gay marriage, liberty, and religious freedom
Posted by: P.M. Jaworski
Thursday, April 23, 2009
The meaning of a word like "marriage" has at least two important uses. The first is for purely legal or technical purposes. The word "pickle," for example, has a precise meaning within the North American Free Trade Agreement. It has to have a certain angle in the curve, else it doesn't count as a "pickle." This meaning is a technical meaning.
The second is to communicate our meaning in ordinary conversations to others. And the meaning of words is determined by nothing other than custom and convention (except in France, where they actually have a central committee that rules on what words are "official" French words). The details are a bit messy, but a good heuristic or rule of thumb is the one employed by the Oxford English Dictionary: "...any word can be included which appears five times, in five different printed sources, over a period of five years."
At the moment, the word "marriage" is typically reserved for one man and one woman. That's what you'll discover if you look it up on dictionary.com. But the fourth entry down reads: "a relationship in which two people have pledged themselves to each other in the manner of a husband and wife, without legal sanction: trial marriage; homosexual marriage." Since many jurisdictions are beginning to give it legal sanction, this definition is outdated.
But the semantic argument is irrelevant to what really matters. It is difficult to find persuasive an argument that relies on the sanctity of a word. Words do not have a sanctity. What they signify or mean might have sanctity, but the arbitrary assemblage of letters (when written) or sounds (when spoken) are only of instrumental value or worth. That's as true of "marriage" as it is of curse words - we get offended at the f-word, but we're wrong to get offended when the word is merely mentioned, rather than used (for this distinction, see here. For a more complicated distinction that captures something roughly similar, see this discussion of de re and de dicto).
What really matters is not the argument about the word, but the argument about whether or not social institutions, whether public or private, ought to give their blessing to a contractual union of something other than one man and one woman. Whether two men or two women ought also to be granted the opportunity to enter a contract like this.
There are a few possible views here. For one, we might think that the whole thing should be a non-governmental affair. It isn't part of the government's job to sanctify or give their blessings to this sort of contract. The decision should be left to non-governmental organizations. The state can step in only to uphold contracts signed by private parties, but not to either encourage or prevent the formation of these contracts.
I'm most sympathetic with this view. I don't see a very pressing reason for the state to be in the business of marriage. And I can't figure out why people insist that the government either frown or applaud when it comes to something like this. If the government should do anything, it's to ensure that the contract follows the five requirements of ordinary contract law - offer and acceptance; consideration; an intention to create legal relations; legal capacity; formalities.
Assuming that the state will be involved, we might wonder whether or not the state should approve of gay marriage. Here the options are plain: The government can approve of gay marriage, disapprove of it, or offer a third option, like civil unions, that don't get to the level of full-blown "marriage."
If the state is going to be involved, I think the best arguments point in favour of giving approval to gay marriage. But I don't want to argue that point here. I'm happy to do it in the comments, or at another time. Instead, I want to alleviate a concern that opponents of gay marriage have when it comes to permitting gay marriage. Specifically, some people argue that permitting gay marriage is a violation of liberty, of religious freedom in particular.
The claim that gay marriage, itself, is a violation of our liberty is only true if we think that provinces or states ought to have this "liberty." But collective liberties, which is what they are, are a strange conceptual creature. Just what sort of thing is a "collective liberty" anyway?
Maybe there is a clear sense of this when we talk about our freedom to pick a political representative. Here, each of us individually enter the polling booth, and we, each of us, agree to be bound by the outcome. Neither you nor I alone determine who gets to be our representative, but those of us who do vote do get to determine this collectively. And this does get to count as a political liberty, and by extension, we can consider it as an instance of a "collective liberty."
Supposing we do end up thinking that "collective liberty" is a perfectly sensible concept, the real issue becomes a matter of drawing a line appropriately. And it's hard to draw the appropriate boundaries around a "collective liberty." It might be fine in the case of selecting politicians, but it becomes fuzzy, and sometimes dangerous, to extend our endorsement of a "collective liberty" outside of those boundaries.
It's dangerous because there really ought to be a sacred sphere the government, even with majority approval, should not have the opportunity to touch. We shouldn't have a vote on whether or not the Western Standard should have published cartoons of Muhammad, for example. That decision ought to be made by those who are put in charge of that private property, in our case, the publisher. That's our business, not the state's, nor the public's. We shouldn't have a vote on what Jimmy can eat, or when he ought to exercise. That's his business, not ours. And I think the same holds true of gay marriage - we shouldn't have a say in whether or not Adam and Steve or Adama and Eve can get married.
These issues are not collective liberty issues, they are individual liberty issues. Adam and Steve should decide individually whether or not they should enter a marriage contract together. The rest of us shouldn't have the power to intervene in that private sphere, even if a referendum were proposed.
Should Adam and Steve be permitted to get married in a church? That, too, should not be up to us. That should be up to Adam, Steve, and the particular church they approach. There are a number of churches that want to marry homosexuals, after all. Why not let Adam and Steve find a willing church for their wedding?
We might choose to go to another church or try to boycott the church or try to get the priests excommunicated from whatever denomination they belong to. All of that is part and parcel of our liberty - our liberty to complain, to go elsewhere, to raise a fuss, and to try to persuade private organizations, like religious denominations, to see our side of things. But we shouldn't try to get the government involved to police these sorts of things. That should not be government business.
A lot of liberals argue for the separation of church and state. They don't want the church to influence politics. I think a lot of religious people should be arguing for the separation of state and church. They should be arguing that politics should not influence the church.
Here's a nice video that captures a lot of what I've said above, and hints at what I will say below (h/t: Will Wilkinson, who is now, and always has been, a Canadian. Really!):
My old high school, Monsignor John Pereyma, is part of the Roman Catholic Separate School Board system. My former high school accepts money in the form of taxes. There is no exemption on the forms for homosexuals or non-Roman Catholics. If you're gay, an atheist, a Jew, or a Protestant, you have to pay taxes that fund Roman Catholic schools in Ontario. If you think that's ridiculous, that taxpayers either shouldn't have to pay for Roman Catholic schools in Ontario, or every variety of school should have access to the same funds (through a voucher system, say), then we agree.
In the late '90s or early '00s, a gay student wanted to bring his boyfriend to the prom. The school said he couldn't, because that went against their beliefs. The student sued on the grounds that, if the school accepts government money, then it is bound by political anti-discrimination laws, and won. He should have won. If you accept money from taxpayers, then you cannot shield yourself from politics.
Arguing for the separation of state and church means saying "no" not just when the state shows up at your door to enforce political correctness, but also when the state shows up with money in hand. That money is the key that permits the state into private institutions to help determine their code of conduct, and the manner in which it will operate. That money, after all, comes from us, involuntarily, and our only method of controlling our money is through the political process. If you don't take my money, then what you do is less of my business. I'm left with the tools of persuasion, rather than the tools of the state.
Religious freedom is not a collective liberty, it is a private liberty. Religious freedom is the freedom each of us has to choose whatever religion we'd like, or none at all. It is also the freedom for private churches to make up their own minds about how they will worship, and what codes they will uphold. And those churches (better: congregations) have religious freedom when they individually, and not by a vote of all churches in a given jurisdiction, determine what will be done within the confines of their doors.
And here's where it gets interesting: Prohibiting gay marriage violates the religious freedom of those churches and congregations that want to marry homosexuals. The state tells them that they cannot. The state tells them that they cannot do this, even if they think that it is consistent with their faith and their manner of worship to provide this service to gays who want to get married.
Should gay marriage be permitted? I think so. It really is a terrible violation of individual liberty to keep Adam and Steve from entering a voluntary, contractual relationship like that.
Should churches be forced to marry homosexuals? I don't think so. It would be a terrible violation of their individual, private liberty to determine the manner in which they choose to express their religious devotion.
All of which is to say that all of us should be fighting to keep the state out of our lives as much as possible. Once upon a time, social conservatives who oppose gay marriage were the politically favoured group. It would have been good if, from that perch, they had renounced their political power in favour of a greater private sphere, in favour of greater individual liberty.
Some did. And good for them. They can proudly say that they always supported individual liberty against the state. That they supported the individual liberty of gays, and the religious freedom of churches that were willing to marry them, even if they did not approve of homosexuality and were opposed to gay marriage.
The tide is turning, and social conservatives are becoming more and more the politically disempowered group. It would be good if the gay community renounced their new-found, and growing, political power. If they agreed not to push for laws that might force churches and private institutions to marry them, or to rent halls to them.
Some are doing this. The gay Toronto-community newspaper Xtra, for example, hasn't forgotten what it was like to be politically disempowered. They are fierce defenders of freedom of expression, and opponents of section 13 of Canada's Human Rights Act. And, really, good for them. They have an opportunity to exact vengeance, and they are not taking that opportunity. And that is deeply admirable.
But too many, on both sides, are clamouring for the power of the state. They care not a lick for liberty, and are grasping to wield the giant hammer of the state. They want to crush their opposition, and make them live lives according to their vision of the good. They can't seem to sleep at night knowing that their neighbour is busy living her life in her own way, and according to her own lights. And this is not admirable; it is despicable.
We really should agree to clamour less for the power of the state, and resort only to the power of persuasion. True, you can't call the police if your neighbour offends your religious convictions - whether realized in the form of unflattering cartoons of your prophet, or a gay marriage ceremony - but they won't be able to call the police when you practice yours. It's not exactly liberty as a modus vivendi, and I suppose you can call it liberty as détente.
I prefer to call it liberty as decency.
Copyright 2009 - The Western Standard >> Permalink
A very disturbing trend to think about...
SPENGLER: Why the West is Boyle'd
April 21, 2009
The West still has no idea what kind of trouble it's in.
Singer Susan Boyle, our latest instant celebrity, reminds me of any number of singers I conducted in amateur renditions of the easier Schubert or Haydn masses, or the sort of matron who sings "Katti-Shaw" or "Buttercup" in the local Gilbert and Sullivan production. Musical talent springs up like grass, and engaging voices are a dollar a dozen. That Boyle has come to embody the triumph of ordinary people over obscurity, complete with invitations to appear on Oprah and Larry King, is disheartening. The popular audience in the West likes to validate its own mediocrity, and crowns stars-for-a-day.
"In a time of economic strife and stress, she came out of nowhere to make us smile and maybe even shed a congratulatory tear or two for someone who had finally fulfilled a life-long dream. Hey, we all have our dreams, right?" gushed Steve Rosen at the Kansas City Star newspaper on April 17, in a variation of a theme that has appeared in numberless versions in the media.
Meanwhile, in China, 60 million children are learning Western classical music under the gimlet gaze of strict teachers. East Asian singers, particularly Koreans, are working their way up the ranks of provincial opera companies, and every one of them sings better than Boyle. Who do you think is going to run the world 20 years from now? As the Italians say, we're bolliti, "boiled." Now we can spell it with a "y." I hate to always be the one to say this, but the hope is fatuous. No, you can't.
There is an undercurrent of self-worship in the aptly-named American Idol and its British knockoff, which lifted Boyle to stardom. As I wrote some years ago (American Idolatry, August 29, 2006), at some time during the 20th century, the people of the West elected to identify with what is like them, rather than emulate what is above them.
Churlish resentment of high culture comes from the slacker's desire for reward with neither merit nor effort: the sort of artistic skill that requires years of discipline and sacrifice is a reproach to the indolence of the popular audience of the West. Better voices than Boyle's can be found in a thousand choirs and amateur theatricals, but the crowd has embraced this late-hatching Scottish songbird as a symbol of its own aspirations.
With no prejudice to Boyle, who seems amused rather than beguiled by her success, the fantasy-life of nations has consequences in the real world. In China, as I observed in a recent essay (China's six-to-one advantage over the US, December 2, 2008), nearly 40 million children study classical piano, and another 15 million or so learn to play stringed instruments. Nearly 60 million young Chinese in all are learning Western classical music, and learning it the hard way, under teachers who demand mastery of technique, paid by parents who have scraped together tuition and demand regular practice. Sixty million is a big number, considering that there are only 30 million Americans aged five to 18. Of these, perhaps 5 or 6 million study piano, but few with the intensity of their Chinese counterparts.
A century ago, middle-class Western girls learned piano to make them more marriageable. Chinese children learn piano because their canny parents know that it will make them more likely to succeed academically, and make considerable sacrifices to pay for lessons. Of course, a few Chinese become concert artists. At the music conservatory on whose board I serve, the best instrumentalists usually are East Asian or Eastern European, with the occasional Israeli thrown in. Most of the up-and-coming East Asian concert artists have a keen sense of classical style, and some show deep insight into Western music.
As a Wall Street executive, I had many opportunities to compare Western and East Asian job candidates. Invariably the Chinese candidate would come in with a doctorate in a quantitative field, keen entrepreneurial instincts, and an exemplary work ethic. Usually he or she would wind up crunching numbers for an American frat boy who glad-handed the customers, earning a small fraction of the frat boy's pay. There were exceptions; the government trading desk of one of Wall Street's most successful shops was run by a Chinese woman who came to America to study ballet, and who played Mozart piano concertos with orchestra as a hobby. For the most part, though, the Chinese blended into the wallpaper and never had a chance at the big money.
Now the frat boys have less to do, for "salesmanship" has become a dirty word in the financial industry. The first trillionaires well might be entrepreneurs like Wang Chuan-Fu of the battery company BYD, which might just launch the first successful mass-market electric car. The smartest Western kids went to business and law school, while Wang learned science at a provincial Chinese university.
Boyle's stardom might prompt a closer look at the little Scottish town of Blackburn in West Lothian whence she hails, and more generally, the state of the formerly industrial towns of Britain's north. There is life after economic death, but it is not pleasant. Few places in the West are more disheartening. Young people have nothing to look forward to but a weekly Walpurgisnacht.
The local newspapers print thick advertising supplements about clubbing, which seems to be the mainstay of the local economy. On Friday or Saturday night, besotted boys and girls in extreme states of dishabille riot through whole quarters of ruined industrial towns. A good deal of Britain's working class is unemployable at any price, too lazy to move to London to take the jobs waiting tables or driving buses that bring Spaniards or Frenchmen to the British capital.
A generation of Americans learned the wrong jobs: selling real estate, processing mortgages, and selling cheap imports from China at shopping malls. The cleverest among them got business degrees and learned to trade derivatives. Their services will no longer be required. On paper, it is obvious what America needs to do. Its economy went into free fall because everyone cut back spending at the same time in response to the crash of asset prices. The aging Baby Boomers need to save for their retirement, or retire later, now that their home equity has vanished along with the contents of their 401(k) plans. The only way for everyone to save at the same time without crashing the economy is to export, just as China does.
That works well enough on paper: but what are Americans to export? Not electric cars, it would appear. Warren Buffett isn't buying General Motors these days, but he did put down over $200 million for a tenth of BYD, China's contender in the electric-car sweepstakes. China requires nuclear power plants - it will install three a year for the next quarter-century - but America shut down its nuclear industry some time ago. There's always Caterpillar, but the field of heavy earth-moving and construction equipment now is dominated by Japanese and German engineering, as a quick tour of the diggings for New York's Second Avenue Subway make clear. America can't even provide the capital equipment for its own infrastructure projects, let alone for China's.
That Wall Street frat boys are in trouble is not a controversial statement. Top-of-the-market bubble behavior no longer is encouraged. Not long from now, they will be lucky to find employment getting coffee for a Chinese (or Indian) boss. The bubble accounted for so much of America's employment down the food chain, though, that many millions of American jobs may vanish. This is particularly painful for prospective pensioners who find themselves in need of employment, for just the sort of jobs that suit older people - part-time retail work, for example, or real estate - are the first to disappear. America might find itself with millions of indigent elderly.
If BYD's electric car takes the jackpot rather than General Motors' much-heralded "Volt," Detroit may never come back, and the American automobile industry may shrink to a skeletal remnant of itself, like Britain's. A number of American rustbelt cities, including Detroit and Cleveland, have shrunk to less than half of their peak population, but the same might be true for the suburban sprawl of parts of the Sunbelt.
The day is gone when a smile and a shoeshine will get you a shot at the American dream, but a smile and a song still will get you a chance at instant stardom. That is the message of hope that Susan Boyle bears to the beleaguered audience of the Anglo-Saxon world. In fact, her own little corner of Britain is living proof that hope may be entirely in vain. Whole parts of the industrial world never will come back. Nothing can resuscitate the north of Britain from industrial ruin, and portions of the United States appear likely to follow.
China's thrift, industry, and diligence are qualities born of long experience with hard times. The terrible suffering of the 19th and 20th centuries left every Chinese parent with the conviction that the world shows no mercy to mediocrity. They have less tolerance for fantasy than their Western counterparts. Reality has intruded on their lives for generations to the point that they are ready to meet it head on. Enough of them devote their lives to making their children excel as to produce an army of hothouse wonders so large as to swamp whatever competition the West might send against them. If Westerners think the present recession is unpleasant, they cannot begin to imagine how the recovery will look, for it may occur entirely remote to them, on the other side of the world.
It is harder and harder to dismiss the awful thought that Americans too, might require long experience with hard times to restore the sort of diligence that their Chinese counterparts learned at such a high price.
Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman, associate editor at First Things: www.firstthings.com.
Copyright 2009 - Asia Times Online
Why Iran is relevant...
Prime Minister Netanyahu: Iran Is New Focus
By: Kenneth R. Timmerman
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
When newly appointed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with President Barack Obama next month, don’t expect a public spat over peace process politics.
Sources in the new government tell Newsmax that the Israeli prime minister is determined to focus all of his energy on convincing Obama that preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons dwarfs all other concerns either nation could have.
Netanyahu sees the threat from a nuclear-armed Iran as a “hinge of history,” that could fundamentally alter the world if it goes unchallenged, sources told Newsmax in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
If the world fails to meet the challenge of stopping the Iranian regime’s nuclear quest, Netanayhu believes “this could be a turning point that is irreversible.”
Should Iran succeed in acquiring nuclear weapons, it would be the first time that a radical Islamic regime dedicated to Israel’s destruction had ever acquired such massive destructive power. “We cannot assume that the normal rational calculations other actors have had for the last 50 or 60 years are going to hold true,” one source said.
What may surprise Obama the most is not Netanyahu’s iron-clad determination to stop Iran, but the fact that he and others in the new government see Iran as “a lens” through which they view all other problems in the region.
“Imagine the war in Lebanon in 2006 and Hamas in 2008 with a nuclear tripwire,” one source told Newsmax. “If you allow the mother ship to be armed in a different way, the proxies will be that much more powerful, and threats will increase by factors of magnitude.”
Several Arab states normally hostile to Israel have recently expressed a desire to cooperate with Israel to contain Iran. “Ironically, the Arabs see us increasingly as an ally,” a former top Israeli diplomat told Newsmax. “They see there are only two countries that can deal with Iran: the United States and Israel.”
Netanyahu has been warning for the past 15 years of the threat of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of a terrorist state.
In a 1994 book, “Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists,” he forecast that terrorists would use a nuclear bomb to blow up the World Trade Center in New York.
In a 1996 address to a Joint Session of Congress in Washington, he said that the greatest threat the world was going to face in the future was a nuclear-armed Iran.
What’s new in 2009 is not only the progress Iran has made toward achieving nuclear weapons capability, but how the proximity of the threat has affected Israel’s strategic thinking.
Retired Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, a former chief of staff who was brought into the new government by Netanyahu and his coalition parties as vice prime minister, was put in charge of a new ministry of strategic affairs.
In a recent essay published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Yaalon described the new strategic outlook that Netanyahu and his coalition partners appear to have adopted. At the heart of it lies Iran.
“The current conceptual approach to peacemaking, that began at Oslo in 1993, was ‘reframed’ in the 2002 Road Map, and then ‘crowned’ at the Annapolis and Paris conferences in 2007, should now be tabled,” Yaalon wrote.
“Instead, a regional approach to Middle East security, diplomacy, and peacemaking should be pursued, based on the economic and diplomatic isolation of Iran and, if necessary, military action.”
On Sunday, Obama chastised the new Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, for saying exactly the same thing. When Obama comes to Jerusalem, he is going to find that Lieberman was not alone.
Introducing his government to the Knesset last week for a vote of confidence, Netanyahu revealed that the driving motivation for his decision to bring the center-left Labor Party into his conservative coalition had nothing to do with economic policy or even the stalled peace process with the Palestinians.
“It was the concern for our national security that was the first and main reason that my friends and I strove to achieve national unity at this time,” he said.
Netanyahu blasted world leaders for failing to respond vigorously to the calls by Iran’s leaders to destroy the state of Israel. “However, the Jewish people have learnt their lesson,” he said.
“We cannot afford to take lightly megalomaniac tyrants who threaten to annihilate us... today we are not defenseless.”
Many Israelis in and around the new government are anxious for Obama’s policies to unfold. Some feel unsure about his real goals or his attitude toward Israel.
Israel appears to understand - and accept - Obama’s desire to offer a new round of negotiations to the Iranian government. But they don’t know if he is truly serious about stopping Iran.
If Obama does not make clear that talks will be replaced with tough measures if Iran refuses to make any concessions, he will face a crisis with the Israeli government.
“If there is no timeline, if Iran can have a feeling they can play for another year simply to gain time and do what they want, that will be unbelievably risky and dangerous,” former Soviet dissident and Israeli government minister Natan Sharansky told Newsmax.
Can Obama live with a nuclear armed Iran? That is the real question many are asking in Jerusalem today.
If the answer is yes, then the “hinge of history” Netanyahu talks about so often is likely to swing in a direction that could be wildly unpredictable.
“In the Middle East, we are used to surprises,” the former diplomat said.
Copyright 2009 - Newsmax
A country without property rights is not free...
By: Graham J. Sproule
Posted: April 5th, 2009
"Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it. Thus the beneficiaries are spared the shame and danger that their acts would otherwise involve... See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime. Then abolish that law without delay... No legal plunder; this is the principle of justice, peace, order, stability, harmony, and logic."Frederic Bastiat, 1801-1850, French statesman and philosopher.
If you read history you will find that often a number of apparently minor and isolated incidents somehow correlate with each other to create events so large and important that they are referred to by historians as "revolutions" in the history of mankind. Who would have thought at the time it happened that the Boston Massacre would provide the necessary spark to set ablaze the fires of the American Revolution? And who would have thought that the Affair of the Diamond Necklace would dazzle the citizenry of France to such an extent that many would participate gleefully in the subsequent terror of the French Revolution? The answer is that no one living during the time they occurred could have known that these rather minor incidents would lead to two of the most momentous events in human history. And yet, had those living during these events read their history, they might not have immediately dismissed these events as insignificant.
One man who lived through the French Revolution was statesman and author Frederic Bastiat. Although less well-known to the English world than Edmund Burke, Bastiat also wrote of the violent plunder of the French Revolution. It was from these events that he was inspired to write how the law could effectively excuse criminal behaviour at the expense of law-abiding citizens. And perhaps more so than Burke, the French philosopher understood the perils of the state’s legal authority to confiscate the property of private citizens. Today, both would be called "conservative thinkers" because they recognized an inalienable right of every man to defend his property and his life. And from witnessing both of these Revolutions, both statesmen recognized that this inalienable right that could be violated, but not destroyed by the laws of the state.
What do two events and two persons of the eighteenth century have anything to do with twenty-first century Canada today? A great deal, since human nature hasn’t changed in two hundred years. Therefore it stands to reason that if we ignore these men, we ignore the implications of seemingly minor and isolated incidents in our own age at our own peril. The recent Knight Farm Raid and the Shanly Egg Raid of 2006 are two such incidents. After Albertan Brian Knight successfully defended his farm and caught one of three thieves, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in turn charged Knight with seven different criminal counts according to legal statues. Far away in Ontario, the latter incident involved the Canadian Food Inspection Agency conducting a legal raid on a family chicken farm in Ontario. This provoked a long stand-off with the Ontario Landowner’s Association led by Randy Hillier, another "knight" in defense of rural property rights.
Many are familiar with the passage from The American Declaration of Independence declaring “...that all men ...are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights ...Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” However, we Canadians would do well to recall that the ideals of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" cannot be realized without "the right of private property and to bear arms in defense thereof." This more sombre affirmation, rooted in centuries-old British common law, is the bulwark of the "American counter-revolution" that led to the creation of Canada. American and French Revolutionaries wrongly assumed that injustice in society could be solved by perfecting their legal systems. Read Burke and Bastiat’s history and you know that it’s not legal systems but society’s "knights" who bring justice. These recent incidents may not be as insignificant as they seem. A property rights counter-revolution in Canada may be beginning.
Copyright 2009 - Graham Sproule
Interesting perspective here...
By: John Taylor Gatto
I taught for thirty years in some of the worst schools in Manhattan, and in some of the best, and during that time I became an expert in boredom. Boredom was everywhere in my world, and if you asked the kids, as I often did, why they felt so bored, they always gave the same answers: They said the work was stupid, that it made no sense, that they already knew it. They said they wanted to be doing something real, not just sitting around. They said teachers didn't seem to know much about their subjects and clearly weren't interested in learning more. And the kids were right: their teachers were every bit as bored as they were.
Boredom is the common condition of schoolteachers, and anyone who has spent time in a teachers' lounge can vouch for the low energy, the whining, the dispirited attitudes, to be found there. When asked why they feel bored, the teachers tend to blame the kids, as you might expect. Who wouldn't get bored teaching students who are rude and interested only in grades? If even that. Of course, teachers are themselves products of the same twelve-year compulsory school programs that so thoroughly bore their students, and as school personnel they are trapped inside structures even more rigid than those imposed upon the children. Who, then, is to blame?
We all are. My grandfather taught me that. One afternoon when I was seven I complained to him of boredom, and he batted me hard on the head. He told me that I was never to use that term in his presence again, that if I was bored it was my fault and no one else's. The obligation to amuse and instruct myself was entirely my own, and people who didn't know that were childish people, to be avoided if possible. Certainty not to be trusted. That episode cured me of boredom forever, and here and there over the years I was able to pass on the lesson to some remarkable students. For the most part, however, I found it futile to challenge the official notion that boredom and childishness were the natural state of affairs in the classroom. Often I had to defy custom, and even bend the law, to help kids break out of this trap.
The empire struck back, of course; childish adults regularly conflate opposition with disloyalty. I once returned from a medical leave to discover that all evidence of my having been granted the leave had been purposely destroyed, that my job had been terminated, and that I no longer possessed even a teaching license. After nine months of tormented effort I was able to retrieve the license when a school secretary testified to witnessing the plot unfold. In the meantime my family suffered more than I care to remember. By the time I finally retired in 1991, I had more than enough reason to think of our schools - with their long-term, cell-block-style, forced confinement of both students and teachers - as virtual factories of childishness. Yet I honestly could not see why they had to be that way. My own experience had revealed to me what many other teachers must learn along the way too, yet keep to themselves for fear of reprisal: if we wanted to, we could easily and inexpensively jettison the old, stupid structures and help kids take an education rather than merely receive a schooling. We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness - curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids to truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then.
But we don't do that. And the more I asked why not, and persisted in thinking about the "problem" of schooling as an engineer might, the more I missed the point: What if there is no "problem" with our schools? What if they are the way they are, so expensively flying in the face of common sense and long experience in how children learn things, not because they are doing something wrong but because they are doing something right? Is it possible that George W. Bush accidentally spoke the truth when he said we would "leave no child behind?" Could it be that our schools are designed to make sure not one of them ever really grows up?
Do we really need school? I don't mean education, just forced schooling: six classes a day, five days a week, nine months a year, for twelve years. Is this deadly routine really necessary? And if so, for what? Don't hide behind reading, writing, and arithmetic as a rationale, because 2 million happy homeschoolers have surely put that banal justification to rest. Even if they hadn't, a considerable number of well-known Americans never went through the twelve-year wringer our kids currently go through, and they turned out all right. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln? Someone taught them, to be sure, but they were not products of a school system, and not one of them was ever "graduated" from a secondary school. Throughout most of American history, kids generally didn't go to high school, yet the unschooled rose to be admirals, like Farragut; inventors, like Edison; captains of industry like Carnegie and Rockefeller; writers, like Melville and Twain and Conrad; and even scholars, like Margaret Mead. In fact, until pretty recently, people who reached the age of thirteen weren't looked upon as children at all. Ariel Durant, who co-wrote an enormous, and very good, multi-volume history of the world with her husband, Will, was happily married at fifteen, and who could reasonably claim that Ariel Durant was an uneducated person? Unschooled, perhaps, but not uneducated.
We have been taught (that is, schooled) in this country to think of "success" as synonymous with, or at least dependent upon, "schooling," but historically that isn't true in either an intellectual or a financial sense. And plenty of people throughout the world today find a way to educate themselves without resorting to a system of compulsory secondary schools that all too often resemble prisons. Why, then, do Americans confuse education with just such a system? What exactly is the purpose of our public schools?
Mass schooling of a compulsory nature really got its teeth into the United States between 1905 and 1915, though it was conceived of much earlier and pushed for throughout most of the nineteenth century. The reason given for this enormous upheaval of family life and cultural traditions was, roughly speaking, threefold:
- To make good people.
- To make good citizens.
- To make each person his or her personal best.
Because of Mencken's reputation as a satirist, we might be tempted to dismiss this passage as a bit of hyperbolic sarcasm. His article, however, goes on to trace the template for our own educational system back to the now vanished, though never to be forgotten, military state of Prussia. And although he was certainly aware of the irony that we had recently been at war with Germany, the heir to Prussian thought and culture, Mencken was being perfectly serious here. Our educational system really is Prussian in origin, and that really is cause for concern.
The odd fact of a Prussian provenance for our schools pops up again and again once you know to look for it. William James alluded to it many times at the turn of the century. Orestes Brownson, the hero of Christopher Lasch's 1991 book, The True and Only Heaven, was publicly denouncing the Prussianization of American schools back in the 1840s. Horace Mann's "Seventh Annual Report" to the Massachusetts State Board of Education in 1843 is essentially a paean to the land of Frederick the Great and a call for its schooling to be brought here. That Prussian culture loomed large in America is hardly surprising, given our early association with that utopian state. A Prussian served as Washington's aide during the Revolutionary War, and so many German-speaking people had settled here by 1795 that Congress considered publishing a German-language edition of the federal laws. But what shocks is that we should so eagerly have adopted one of the very worst aspects of Prussian culture: an educational system deliberately designed to produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appreciable leadership skills, and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens in order to render the populace "manageable."
It was from James Bryant Conant - president of Harvard for twenty years, WWI poison-gas specialist, WWII executive on the atomic-bomb project, high commissioner of the American zone in Germany after WWII, and truly one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century - that I first got wind of the real purposes of American schooling. Without Conant, we would probably not have the same style and degree of standardized testing that we enjoy today, nor would we be blessed with gargantuan high schools that warehouse 2,000 to 4,000 students at a time, like the famous Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado. Shortly after I retired from teaching, I picked up Conant's 1959 book-length essay, The Child, the Parent, and the State, and was more than a little intrigued to see him mention in passing that the modem schools we attend were the result of a "revolution" engineered between 1905 and 1930. A revolution? He declines to elaborate, but he does direct the curious and the uninformed to Alexander Inglis's 1918 book, Principles of Secondary Education, in which "one saw this revolution through the eyes of a revolutionary."
Inglis, for whom a lecture in education at Harvard is named, makes it perfectly clear that compulsory schooling on this continent was intended to be just what it had been for Prussia in the 1820s: a fifth column into the burgeoning democratic movement that threatened to give the peasants and the proletarians a voice at the bargaining table. Modern, industrialized, compulsory schooling was to make a sort of surgical incision into the prospective unity of these underclasses. Divide children by subject, by age-grading, by constant rankings on tests, and by many other more subtle means, and it was unlikely that the ignorant mass of mankind, separated in childhood, would ever re-integrate into a dangerous whole.
Inglis breaks down the purpose - the actual purpose - of modem schooling into six basic functions, any one of which is enough to curl the hair of those innocent enough to believe the three traditional goals listed earlier:
1) The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority. This, of course, precludes critical judgment completely. It also pretty much destroys the idea that useful or interesting material should be taught, because you can't test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn, and do, foolish and boring things.
2) The integrating function. This might well be called "the conformity function," because its intention is to make children as alike as possible. People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor force.
3) The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to determine each student's proper social role. This is done by logging evidence mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records. As in "your permanent record." Yes, you do have one.
4) The differentiating function. Once their social role has been "diagnosed," children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far as their destination in the social machine merits - and not one step further. So much for making kids their personal best.
5) The selective function. This refers not to human choice at all but to Darwin's theory of natural selection as applied to what he called "the favored races." In short, the idea is to help things along by consciously attempting to improve the breeding stock. Schools are meant to tag the unfit - with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments - clearly enough that their peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the reproductive sweepstakes. That's what all those little humiliations from first grade onward were intended to do: wash the dirt down the drain.
6) The propaedeutic function. The societal system implied by these rules will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage this continuing project, how to watch over and control a population deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order that government might proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want for obedient labor.
That, unfortunately, is the purpose of mandatory public education in this country. And lest you take Inglis for an isolated crank with a rather too cynical take on the educational enterprise, you should know that he was hardly alone in championing these ideas. Conant himself, building on the ideas of Horace Mann and others, campaigned tirelessly for an American school system designed along the same lines. Men like George Peabody, who funded the cause of mandatory schooling throughout the South, surely understood that the Prussian system was useful in creating not only a harmless electorate and a servile labor force but also a virtual herd of mindless consumers. In time a great number of industrial titans came to recognize the enormous profits to be had by cultivating and tending just such a herd via public education, among them Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller.
There you have it. Now you know. We don't need Karl Marx's conception of a grand warfare between the classes to see that it is in the interest of complex management, economic or political, to dumb people down, to demoralize them, to divide them from one another, and to discard them if they don't conform. Class may frame the proposition, as when Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, said the following to the New York City School Teachers Association in 1909: "We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks." But the motives behind the disgusting decisions that bring about these ends need not be class-based at all. They can stem purely from fear, or from the by-now-familiar belief that "efficiency" is the paramount virtue, rather than love, liberty, laughter, or hope. Above all, they can stem from simple greed.
There were vast fortunes to be made, after all, in an economy based on mass production and organized to favor the large corporation rather than the small business or the family farm. But mass production required mass consumption, and at the turn of the twentieth century most Americans considered it both unnatural and unwise to buy things they didn't actually need. Mandatory schooling was a godsend on that count. School didn't have to train kids in any direct sense to think they should consume nonstop, because it did something even better: it encouraged them not to think at all. And that left them sitting ducks for another great invention of the modem era - marketing.
Now, you needn't have studied marketing to know that there are two groups of people who can always be convinced to consume more than they need to: addicts and children. School has done a pretty good job of turning our children into addicts, but it has done a spectacular job of turning our children into children. Again, this is no accident. Theorists from Plato to Rousseau to our own Dr. Inglis knew that if children could be cloistered with other children, stripped of responsibility and independence, encouraged to develop only the trivializing emotions of greed, envy, jealousy, and fear, they would grow older but never truly grow up. In the 1934 edition of his once well-known book Public Education in the United States, Ellwood P. Cubberley detailed and praised the way the strategy of successive school enlargements had extended childhood by two to six years, and forced schooling was at that point still quite new. This same Cubberley - who was dean of Stanford's School of Education, a textbook editor at Houghton Mifflin, and Conant's friend and correspondent at Harvard - had written the following in the 1922 edition of his book Public School Administration: "Our schools are... factories in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned... And it is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down."
It's perfectly obvious from our society today what those specifications were. Maturity has by now been banished from nearly every aspect of our lives. Easy divorce laws have removed the need to work at relationships; easy credit has removed the need for fiscal self-control; easy entertainment has removed the need to learn to entertain oneself; easy answers have removed the need to ask questions. We have become a nation of children, happy to surrender our judgments and our wills to political exhortations and commercial blandishments that would insult actual adults. We buy televisions, and then we buy the things we see on the television. We buy computers, and then we buy the things we see on the computer. We buy $150 sneakers whether we need them or not, and when they fall apart too soon, we buy another pair. We drive SUVs and believe the lie that they constitute a kind of life insurance, even when we're upside-down in them. And, worst of all, we don't bat an eye when Ari Fleischer tells us to "be careful what you say," even if we remember having been told somewhere back in school that America is the land of the free. We simply buy that one too. Our schooling, as intended, has seen to it.
Now for the good news. Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they'll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology - all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.
First, though, we must wake up to what our schools really are: laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands. Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants. Don't let your own have their childhoods extended, not even for a day. If David Farragut could take command of a captured British warship as a pre-teen, if Thomas Edison could publish a broadsheet at the age of twelve, if Ben Franklin could apprentice himself to a printer at the same age (then put himself through a course of study that would choke a Yale senior today), there's no telling what your own kids could do. After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I've concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.
John Taylor Gatto is a former New York State and New York City Teacher of the Year and the author, most recently, of The Underground History of American Education. He was a participant in the Harper's Magazine forum "School on a Hill," which appeared in the September 2003 issue.
(c) John Taylor Gatto
March 07, 2009
Why we need a majority...
Harper driving Conservatives the wrong way
By: MICHAEL TAUBE
Last Updated: 9th March, 2009
In March 2006, I left the Toronto Sun to become a speechwriter for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In those early days, after an exciting election result and a shock to the political system, the re-emergence of Canadian conservatism - and Canada's future - looked pretty positive.
How wrong I was.
The federal Conservatives have increasingly become a centrist, non-ideological government. While there have been some incremental steps toward conservatism - including tax credits, GST reduction, and cracking down on crime - they've been few and far between.
Instead, the Harper Tories have spent more time propping up bloated social programs they previously opposed, and tearing down political positions they formerly supported.
For example, the government introduced a federal budget in January that only a drunken sailor could be proud of. Sure, there were some new tax cuts totaling about $2 billion, but so what? They were completely offset by massive spending deficits of close to $85 billion on wasteful infrastructure, social housing and cultural programs.
Yes, both the global economic crisis and last December's political stand-off played a role in this budget's evolution.
But a true Conservative government - in either a majority or minority position - would still be fiscally prudent even in the face of political and economic turmoil. This so-called economic recovery plan won't get our economy rolling again.
And just this week, the PM admitted defeat in Afghanistan. He told CNN's Fareed Zakaria, "We are not going to ever defeat the insurgency."
In one fell swoop, Harper wiped out the Canadian military's accomplishments during this mission, including building roads, providing fresh, clean water and improving women's rights.
Even worse, he brushed aside the memory of the brave 111 Canadian soldiers who died in war-torn Afghanistan fighting for freedom and democracy.
Yes, I recognize Harper may be trying to make the best out of a bad situation. But ascribing to the culture of defeat with respect to an ongoing military mission is hardly a case study in strong leadership. It's disrespectful to our men and women in uniform, not to mention their families and friends.
And to put it bluntly, it's not a very right-wing thing to do.
As the Conservatives sink further and further away from ideological purity, their support base keeps crumbling. In fact, some conservatives are strongly considering voting for the Liberals in the next federal election.
They appear to be dissatisfied with Harper's leadership and policies, and are relatively content with Michael Ignatieff's economic positions and support for a greater international role for Canada. They believe he has the makings of a future prime minister.
If some conservatives now believe there's no difference between Ignatieff and Harper, this government has a real identity problem. It's up to the PM to re-establish a clear distinction between the Conservatives and Liberals.
Here are some ways to do it:
- Support across-the-board tax cuts for all Canadians instead of targeted tax credits for a few.
- Increase private sector opportunities in job and wealth creation, and reduce - not revisit - government waste.
- Resist the short-term public relations temptation to follow U.S. President Barack Obama's destructive path of social engineering.
- Stop throwing away taxpayer money on ineffective social programs like universal health care, and utilize market-based approaches to reform them.
- Relax foreign ownership rules and give our economy a real jolt.
Hopefully Harper will wake up from his political malaise and re-embrace a free market-oriented approach. It would show real initiative and leadership in these difficult economic times, and prove he's not in office to simply maintain power.
Conservatives and Canadians are waiting, prime minister. But I sense not for much longer.
Taube is a public affairs analyst and commentator, and a former speechwriter for PM Stephen Harper.
Copyright 2009 - The Toronto Sun